This charming song was written for the coronation of King James in 1685 and appeared later that year in the second book of Henry Playford’s The Theatre of Music
: it was reprinted ten years later by the same publisher in his The New Treasury of Music
. The text was full of pastoral allusions and royal imagery for the new king, and was sub-titled ‘A Pastoral Coronation’. Thirsis was a stock pastoral figure whose name most famously occurs in the first Bucolic by Theocritus, the popular and much-imitated Greek poet, born in Sicily, who lived in the 3rd century BC.
Purcell produced a strophic setting for the three verses, much in the tradition of Dowland and the great Elizabethan composers whose work he so admired. The result was a wonderfully crafted miniature, memorably tuneful and full of harmonic interest for the accompanists. The ‘Graces’ were the Pariae, the three goddesses originally identical with the Fates, but trivialized in later antiquity and representative of beauty and love. The Cupids were their boy-child attendants.
from notes by Robert King © 2003